Buy Linux Preinstalled?

I felt like needlessly spending money so I bought a new computer! I got a System 76 Gazelle Professional. It’s a high end laptop that comes with Ubuntu. If you’re looking at buying a computer that comes with Ubuntu you are probably wondering if there is any advantage. Does everything just work at all times perfectly? Yes and no.

The Good

With Linux reinstalled you can expect everything to just work out of box. No downloading proprietary drivers, this machine is made to work, not to appease RMS. It’s really a considerable time saver rather than researching hardware, installing yourself, etc. This is the first computer I’ve ever purchased that the first thing I did wasn’t install a new operating system. It’s close to a stock Ubuntu image, but some good changes have been made. The finger print reader works for one! It’s shocking, I’ve had a finger print reader for years in Linux and it’s always been a situation where it works, but works terribly and so I always disable it. The Gazelle has “fingerprint-gui” installed which works at all prompts. Login, terminal, gksu, even gnome screen saver.

System 76 didn’t put any bloatware unlike any major computer vendor. This makes it a great choice for people who don’t know how to install an operating system. Techie’s probably don’t think about this so much, but really it will make you cry to see a new i5 running slow from all the pre-installed crapware. Of course this works out great for the looters who get people to think they need a new computer every two years.

The Bad
While I generally like this laptop, and it’s way better than buying one with Windows, it doesn’t make Linux perfect. The USB 3.0 ports don’t work right after suspend. NVidia proprietary drivers still suck. There’s really only so much System 76 can do here short of reverse engineering the drivers better than Nouveau, which only gets you about 10% the performance.  The GUI for changing monitors is an abomination.

It has too major issues. First WTF is X server? Obviously if you are reading my blog you probably know. But really a non techie doesn’t give a damn what X Screen 0 is. It’s very unclear how the hell one adds a second monitor using this tool. The gnome tool only works with open source video drivers. Second even for the system admin, it takes 10 clicks to switch to a monitor! That’s just stupid. Also if you remove the second monitor, it doesn’t detect it. If you disable the laptop monitor then unplug the second, you have no way to switch back! What was NVidia thinking!? That said I haven’t had X freeze once so far. My old Intel gpu thinkpad would crash all the time! Ok actually 10% of the time when switching monitors. That’s unacceptable for a supposedly well supported open source video driver. Performance wise the NVidia card works well. I tried out Oil Rush and had no problem running the graphics intense game.

Another point is that you might think a Linux computer would be cheaper since there is no software license fee. This is just not true. Windows licensing for  OEM is very cheap. Even a company like Dell often charges more for Linux computers (because they don’t seem to get included in sales). System 76 is a small company so you can’t expect them to be compete well price wise. You end up with computers that are about the same price as the larger manufacturer’s Windows machines. Also larger companies make money by putting crap on your computer.


Overall I would say it’s worth going for a Linux preinstalled computer. Just don’t expect it to cost less nor to make Linux work flawlessly. It saves you from fighting unsupported hardware. Wading through new hardware with Linux is nightmare filled with land mines such as Nvidia Optimus video cards that don’t work at all in Linux. Also you are supporting a small Linux friendly business rather than throwing money at Microsoft for a product you don’t intend to use. The only exception might be if  you are looking for very specific features. There just aren’t many Linux friendly computer vendors, so if you want a touch screen for example, you may be out of luck.

By David

I am a supporter of free software and run Burke Software and Consulting LLC. I am always looking for contract work especially for non-profits and open source projects. Open Source Contributions I maintain a number of Django related projects including GlitchTip, Passit, and django-report-builder. You can view my work on gitlab. Academic papers Incorporating Gaming in Software Engineering Projects: Case of RMU Monopoly in the Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (2008)

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